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Guy Clark
Craftsman
Philo

On the great continuum of tough-but-smart, hard-but-sensitive country and western singer/songwriters, Guy Clark cut his notch somewhere after Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, and someplace before Rosanne Cash, Lucinda Williams and Lyle Lovett. Making a name more through his pen than his voice, Clark is cut from the same sun-parched and wind-chapped Texas plain that bore Townes Van Zandt. And with a hint of a bohemian (if not quite hippie) sensibility mixed in with his L.A./Nashville new country glide, Clark's work suggests what might have come from Gram Parsons had he survived the '70s.

Craftsman isn't a new album, but rather a two-CD reissue of three records Clark laid down for Warner Bros. between 1978 and 1983: Guy Clark '78, South Coast of Texas and Better Days. The entire trilogy mines a hefty 30 songs from Clark's most prolific, and most successful, period as a recording artist. For those who came to country on the Garth Brooks wave -- who may not recognize even Clark's most popular songs (such as "Homegrown Tomatoes" and the Rodney Crowell co-penned "The Partner That Nobody Chose") -- Craftsman sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday, or, for that matter, 40 years ago.

There are bits of various country flavors on the disc, from the Jimmy Buffett easy adult sounds of Crowell's "Voila, An American Dream" to the dry and scathing late-Dylanisms of "Fool on the Roof Blues"; from the traditional country of "The Houston Kid" to the elegant Western pop of "Fools for Each Other" and "Shade of All Greens." There's no adolescent angst here. Craftsman is for listeners who are all grown up.

-- Roni Sarig

Texas Instruments
Speed of Sound
Doctor Dream Records

Texas Instruments have been one of this state's most ignored bands for more than a decade, and unfortunately Speed of Sound, the group's fifth album, probably won't do much to raise their snake-belly profile.

That's a shame, because Speed of Sound is Texas Instruments' best work since the amazing Sun Tunnels, which came out nearly eight years ago. The band's music hasn't changed much since then. They still carve their sound out of the country-shuffle bone that the Meat Puppets were chewing on when they made Meat Puppets II in 1983. Then they add singer David Woody's Dylan-damaged vocals and filter the whole sound through a few years of classic punk rock (circa 1983-85), and there you have it.

That "it" being a well-focused band that gets where they want to go musically with a minimum of strain. There's no filler or screaming guitar solos; instead, every note fits in with the next so there's no mess to clean up. Texas Instruments aren't angry kids screaming. Rather, they're more like a counterpart to bands such as Giant Sand or Scrawl: mature craftsmen worried about writing good songs that try to tell stories and, at least for three and half minutes, pull the pieces of messed up lives together.

As a result, of course, they're likely doomed to obscurity, playing in bars to 20 people and releasing truly independent records on labels few have ever heard of. But for those who are willing to search, Texas Instruments will likely always be willing to have something worth searching for.

-- Vaughan Boone

Mary Lou Lord
Mary Lou Lord
Kill Rock Stars

Move over Juliana Hatfield, here comes another airy-voiced Bostonian to ride the indie train nonstop to pop stardom. Well connected on both coasts -- in the hometown scene as well as in her adopted northwestern haven of Olympia, Washington -- Mary Lou Lord is climbing the ladder of success and further blurring the definition of the alternative nation. With her cutesy siren and bubbling ambition to unseat Courtney Love as queen of nevermind, she's a major label recording artist waiting to happen.

For now, though, she's just a hip, young folk singer in the grand old tradition of her buddy Beck. You know that because she played post modern with Bobby D last year on her well-loved first single "Some Jingle Jangle Morning (When I'm Straight)," and now turns some typical folkie tricks on her self-titled debut mini-album. Of the eight tracks, seven are self-accompanied acoustic guitar -- and five of those are covers and one is the sort of tongue-in-cheek social commentary you'd expect to hear at coffeehouse open mikes.

The funny one is called "His Indie World," and it's Lord's explanation of why "I don't fit into this indie scene," complete with rhymes such as "Just give me my Joni, my Nick, Neil and Bob / You can keep your Tsunami, your Slant 6 and Smog." It's better than most novelties, but ultimately it's still just a novelty. The real centerpiece of the album is an electric version of the Bevis Frond's "Lights Are Changing." A well chosen cover given grunge guitar/modern rock treatment, the track relegates Lord to "vocals and air guitar" in front of a six-piece band and thus prepares her for the day she becomes the Belinda Carlisle of the '90s. -- Roni Sarig

 
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